Wet’s Kelly Zutrau Is Taking Control

“It was important for me to make something that felt cohesive from start to finish, and came from me.”

By her own admission, Wet’s singer-songwriter Kelly Zutrau is older, more confident and in control as the duo – known for their emotional, R&B-infused electro-pop – gets ready to drop their sophomore album Still Run (due out July 13, Sony). After making their debut with Don’t You in 2016, Zutrau says she and multi-instrumentalist Joe Valle have settled into a new rhythm, one which involves seeing the 30-year-old performer and painter owning her role as a frontwoman.

“For a while, I didn’t think of myself [that way] and I’m starting to,” says the “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl” singer, who I met backstage during Wet’s latest tour stop in Toronto. “With this album, I’m really trying to embrace this whole thing. It means being okay with being the centre of focus at a show or photo shoot. The songs come from me, so it makes sense that I would be the person at the forefront.” Wet has received plenty of attention away from stages or sets too, having been praised in Vogue, the New York Times and gained over 1.7M Spotify listeners a month.

Zutrau explains that feeling confident at centre stage has a lot to do with having creative control of Wet’s music, as well as being comfortable, literally, in whatever she’s wearing. Not only does her affinity for the ‘90s come through on new tracks like “Lately” and “There’s a Reason,” but Zutrau also takes style cues from the everything-old-is-new-again decade. Dressed in cropped jeans and an oversized sweatshirt, the singer opens up about being vulnerable on stage, standing up for herself and writing sad songs that also empower women.

How do you think you’ve evolved as a performer since the last time you released music?

I really struggled with stage fright and just figuring out how to be on stage. I would feel very uncomfortable. I still have that sometimes but it just takes doing it over and over and over again until you eventually find a way to be comfortable. Even when I am freaking out, now I just try to be in that feeling. Overall I think I’m older, more confident and have done it more. I’m really enjoying the shows now in a way that I didn’t years ago.

Is there a way you want people to feel when they come to your shows?

In the beginning, I didn’t have a goal of what I wanted these shows to be for people. I’ve just been seeing front rows of young women crying and singing along, and that seems really powerful to have that connection with them. Afterwards they tell me they came because they wanted to cry. It seems a little like therapy because a lot of it is slow and introspective. I think that’s what people want out of the shows, just to be in their feelings. Then I’ve also noticed a lot of people making out, which is bizarre but also really cool.

Let’s talk about the new album. What was your hope for Still Run when you started?

I wanted to be more in control of the creative process. There were a lot of people involved in the last one, a lot of democratic decisions. In the end, I felt really happy with what we made, but it was important for me to make something that felt like the vision stayed cohesive from start to finish and came from me. I had more creative control than I did last time. I also wanted to be more experimental with the sound. I didn’t want to stick to having to be slow and electronic. I just wanted to let it go different ways. I hope it’s uplifting and empowering, but also that people can enjoy the sadness of certain moments of it.

You’ve said that the album is about dysfunctional relationships. What made you want to explore those?

The name Still Run is about still letting go of people or things, even when it’s easier to stay in comfortable, familiar situations. That’s what I was going through while writing these songs. While I was trying to get control of my life, a lot of my relationships changed – really close, important relationships because they’d been established in this other dynamic where I didn’t have control. Trying to gain control meant that I lost some of those relationships, or that they changed profoundly. It still felt like a loss. It was about taking that stand for myself, dealing with those losses and that complicated process.

You mentioned taking a stand in relationships. As a woman, songwriter and performer, do you see your creative work as political?

I do. I think most expressions are inherently political because they happen in a time and place and show a perspective. I don’t purposefully set out to write, ‘This is what it sounds like to be a woman,’ but because I am a woman, I think that experience connects with other women a lot of the time. I’m really glad that it does.

Who were some of your earliest influences?

When I was [a teen], I was listening to a lot of Destiny’s Child, SWV, Usher and TLC. I was in a singing group in school and those were the first songs I sang publically. But I was also influenced by Madonna and Whitney Houston – genre-less women who had strong vocals and a really emotional story.

Speaking of Madonna and Whitney, how do you feel about the resurgence of so many ‘90s trends?

I think it’s cool. I really like ‘90s style, partly because it’s the fashion that was formative for me. It’s comforting. I just bought a pair of Steve Madden wedges that are like the same ones I had when I was 10, and I love wearing them.

Are there any women in music whose style you love?

I like Christina Aguilera’s recent looks. She looks amazing! Also, Rihanna’s an obvious one but I’m always watching what she’s wearing. I directed and shot the video for our song “Lately,” and I got the idea for the style in the video from an old Whitney Houston record. On it, she’s posing in a white bathing suit. I do not look as amazing as she does in it, but I thought, ‘I want to wear a white bathing suit.’

Do you have a stage uniform?

I don’t. I usually like to have one element that I wouldn’t necessarily wear in my regular life, or feels special for the show. Recently, I’ve been wearing jeans, a simple top and then I try to wear fun shoes. Like these [she’s wearing black, stacked-heel Chanel sandals] – I don’t really wear them in my life. I’ve dreamed of having Chanel shoes for a long time, so I wear these for band stuff.

You’re known for writing about vulnerable moments in your life. How does it feel to know that soon you’ll be sharing new songs inspired by those experiences?

I’m really excited. This is a really fun part [but] it’s also scary. It’ll be interesting to see how people react to it, and whether they like the different direction. I’m really happy with it and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to feel like no matter what the reaction was that I liked it, and I really do.